Jeremy Clarke

Bath time

A social leper tells you of his miserable existence

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These days Uncle Jack only comes out of his room once a week, for a bath. The rest of the time he sits in his chair in front of the television, wailing. You can hear him all over the house. It sounds very peculiar, as if we are keeping a tethered discontented beast somewhere in the house. Muffled by intervening doors, the regularity and strangulated tone of his wails sometimes reminds us of the strident bleating of a sheep. Sometimes it does my head in. I go in and say, ‘What’s the matter? What are you making all this noise for?’ And he’ll look up at me with a belligerent light in his eye and say, ‘I’m bored.’

I can’t say I blame him, actually. He sits there day after day with nothing to occupy his mind, apart from the bizarre delusions which visit it now and again, and daytime television, with no way of distinguishing between the two. You’d think he’d look forward to his weekly visit to the bathroom, if only for a change of scenery. But Uncle Jack refuses to get out of his chair without good reason, and a weekly bath, in his book, is certainly not one of those. On bath day we have to go into his room in force and cajole and plead with him. Sometimes he eventually gives way, sometimes we fail. Whichever the result, emotions always runs high and we have to watch out for his stick.

Climbing in and out of the bath has become such a perilous operation for Uncle Jack that we got him a bath hoist for his birthday. This consists of a white plastic seat similar to those sold as garden furniture, except it has vertical slots to let the water drain through. The seat is attached to a winch and the winch is on wheeled forks. We remove Uncle Jack’s clothes and invite him to sit on the white plastic seat. Then I wind Uncle Jack into the air, push the whole ensemble until he is dangling over the bath water, then lower away.

Before his last bath but one, I’d got him suspended over the bath and was lining him up for the descent, when he started shrieking like a stuck pig. One of his testicles had forced itself through one of the drainage slots in the seat and become trapped. Viewed from underneath the seat, Uncle Jack’s trapped testicle would have made an intriguing photograph in a mystery-object competition. His pain would have been lessened if he’d remained calm and sat still, but the agony was acute and his instinct was to extract himself from the situation immediately, which of course only exacerbated things. What with Uncle Jack’s screams, and our shouting at him to keep still while we teased the testicle back through the slot with our fingers, it must have sounded like a murder was being committed.

The testicle showed no evidence of any lasting damage, fortunately, and Uncle Jack’s memory being what it is, he forgot about the accident straight away. Our requests later that day, when he was dressed and back in his chair, for ‘a quick look’ at his testicle ‘to see what colour it is’ were treated first with incredulity and then with outright hostility.

Of course I wrote to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency straight away and told them what had happened. If anything, I said, Uncle Jack’s testicles are a bit on the small side. If one of his slipped through, I said, it could happen to almost anybody. The drainage slots, I said, were a serious design fault and bath-hoist users should be alerted to the fact as soon as possible.

Well, my letter must have hit the spot. Not a week later we received a MHPRA ‘Medical Device Alert’ mail shot. It went as follows:

The MHPRA has received reports of four incidents in the last three months where male genitalia have become entrapped in the drainage holes of a variety of bath or shower seating equipment. These incidents resulted in cuts, lacerations and testicular bruising and in several cases the user had to be freed by the Fire Service. Similarly, an incident was recently reported involving an elderly woman with a rectal prolapse, which became entrapped in the holes of the seat on a bath hoist.

Action: Where the shape, size and position of the drainage holes/slots present a possible entrapment risk, consider whether it is appropriate to use a folded towel or similar protective material between the seat and the user to minimise the entrapment risk.

This Medical Device Alert has been sent out to all the relevant health authorities. To those Spectator readers with prolapsed rectums, small testicles, or both, who use a bath hoist, privately, at home, and who are unaware of the attendant ‘entrapment risk’, I respectfully pass on the MHPRA’s valuable advice.